Never forget sacrifices made by many on 9/11

September 11, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

The question usually starts with where were you, which is followed by a day, a date or an event. This is a usual question among friends when the subject is the past. Where were you on Kristallnacht, or night of the broken glass? The surviving relatives and friends of European Jews can tell you — they remember the night when the evil of the Holocaust moved into high gear.

Where were you on Dec. 7, 1941? World War II veterans and their families easily answered that question when I visited the World War II monument one Father's Day. My father-in-law, a World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veteran, remembered that day for two reasons. First it was his 19th birthday; and second, it was the beginning of the sacrifice for Americans that was a great world war.

Where were you on 9/11? We don't even need the year to bring on those memories of the day that evil visited our nation.  Country singer Alan Jackson immortalized that date in my mind and the minds of many Americans, when he called it the day "the world stopped turning."  

I was in the studio of a local television station taping a promotional spot for an upcoming United Way campaign. My wife was less than three miles from the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C. A good friend was passing through the quiet countryside of southcentral Pennsylvania, on his way to Pittsburgh, when emergency vehicles passed him to reach a downed airplane. And "let's roll" became etched in our lexicon as a new symbol for fighting tyranny and terrorism.

It has taken a while, but my Christian sense has helped me to forgive those misguided people, funded and urged on by evil terrorist cowards ("forgive them for they know not what they do"), but nothing save losing my mind or my death will allow me to forget the events of that September day.

If I were king for a day, I'd decree that every American watch, every day, those towers in New York City fall. I'd decree that every day that Americans and our loyal allies go in harm's way to counter the evil threat of terrorism be considered a day of righteousness, not a day of condemnation or second-guessing of our national will. My friends, don't ever forget the day the world stopped turning.

There are more than 250 million stories from that day, as Americans everywhere were affected by the events surrounding 9/11. I'll not tell them all, but I do want to mention, in one short vignette, 343 stories from that day.

I have written about this incident before; however, today it bears retelling. The New York City Fire Department is equipped to fight fires in buildings, from the outside, up to 20 stories in height. Simply put, the finest fire equipment ladders will only reach 200 feet. Fires in buildings taller than 20 stories must be fought from the inside.  

The World Trade Center towers were more than 100 stories high, and the fires unleashed by the crashing of the planes into the buildings were above the 56th floor in each of the towers.  That situation, at first in the North Tower where the first plane entered the building at the 78th floor, confronted more than 600 firefighters and rescuers of the New York Fire and Police departments.

When the first responders arrived at the North Tower, there were an estimated 16,000 people inside both towers. Those first responders arrived before the second plane hit the South Tower. Imagine standing there or going into the North Tower and feeling the impact of the second plane hitting the second tower.

Now, the fire is into both towers. Can you contemplate climbing through smoke-filled stairwells while you hear the sound of elevators crashing to the first floor from as high as the 78th floor, some of them with living people still inside? And then, both towers collapsed.

Among the nearly 3,000 deaths that day were 343 New York firefighters who gave their lives in one of the greatest displays of sacrifice in the history of our nation.

For those 343 souls and the others who died that day, and for 250 million Americans who have a story about that day, I'll not forget. May you be healed by this day of remembrance; in your heart, may there always be forgiveness, but in your daily thoughts and prayers, never forget the sacrifices made on that unforgettable day.

God bless America.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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